Be Bold, Be Progressive

The 2010 election is shaping up to be the third straight in which voters are likely to shout a loud, unruly “no.”

And Democrats are likely to be on the receiving end this time, after 2006 and 2008 votes that routed the ruling Republicans and made clear that voters saw the nation moving in the wrong direction.

The reason is that things have not gotten measurably better and the transformative change promised has not materialized.

The Democrats have backed away from the limited progressive agenda they promised, instead preferring Clinton-style incrementalism to bold action. Health-care reform was watered down, financial reform was gutted and legislation addressing climate change and immigration remain wishes.

More disconcerting, from a progressive perspective, has been the focus on deficits at a time of high unemployment. The stimulus approved in 2009 was too small and too reliant on tax cuts and the chance of enacting another one seems slim, at best.

No wonder voters appear willing to hand the reins of Congress to the Republicans, a party that offers nothing but obstructionism.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll issued in July reported that 72% of voters have “just some” or no confidence in Congressional Republicans to move the country in the right direction, 5 percentage points more than those who view the Democrats in such negative terms.

That might seem good news for Democrats, except that a “potent anti-incumbent mood” that has gripped voters, with a bare 26% registered voters saying “they are inclined to support their representative in the House this fall; 62% are inclined to look for someone new.”

Just as troubling for Democrats is this statistic: “a slim majority of all voters say they would prefer Republican control of Congress so that the legislative branch would act as a check on the president’s policies. Those most likely to vote in the midterms prefer the GOP over continued Democratic rule by a sizable margin of 56% to 41%.”

And there does not appear to be much that can change the public’s mind. Polls — not just the Washington Post/ABC, but Gallup, Bloomberg and others — show a public wary of government spending and rising government debt (though, most voters — or politicians, for that matter — do not distinguish between the debt and the deficit) and skeptical that a new stimulus plan would have much effect.

The blame for this goes to the president and Congressional leaders, who have been far too timid, as I’ve said. David Leonhardt, in a piece in the New York Times in late June, summed up their failures:

“The president has not wrapped his arms around teachers, firefighters and other government workers facing layoffs and dared Republicans to oppose him, much as he did with financial reregulation,” Leonhardt wrote. “He has not pushed for a big new round of tax cuts, which could also put Republicans in a bind. And the White House has been slow to fill vacancies at the Federal Reserve that could go to officials who favor the Fed’s doing more to lift economic growth.”

This has left a vacuum that the right, both on the cable stations and in Congress, has used to control the debate, which in turn has pushed the mainstream narrative to the right, as well.

Given all of this, the impending electoral massacre would serve the Democrats right — if it wouldn’t hand Congress back to the troglodytes of the GOP and make the Democrats think that they need to move even further to the right to survive.

Progressives have an opportunity here to grab hold of the debate and begin pulling the national political pendulum back toward the left, where it appeared it was headed in November 2008. This has to be more than a rhetorical shift, more than just framing. It starts with a commitment to job creation via a new stimulus package — aid to states for education (not tied to the Race to the Top grants), law enforcement and state-level stimulus projects, direct aid to colleges, tax credits to homeowners to encourage conversion to solar energy and other renewables, purchase of more fuel-efficient vehicles and other green initiatives, targeted tax cuts. It requires approval of the extension of jobless benefits — or, failing that, a very nasty and very public fight over the benefits that makes it clear that Republicans are the ones stymieing the extension.

And it requires a new commitment toward ending corporate dominance of the economy, including a financial reform bill with real teeth, campaign finance reform and diversification of the media.

And we must make it clear that a Democratic majority is not the goal, but as progressive majority, an anti-corporate majority. A Senate made up of corporate shills like Evan Bayh, Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieux may be nominally better than one run by James Inhofe and Lamar Alexander, but it still leaves us at the mercy of the corporate order.

Hank Kalet is a poet and newspaper editor in New Jersey. E-mail; blog,

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2010

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